Accelerating Research Through Philanthropy

Brian Westerlund 105x140

VECA Electric and Technologies, a founding sponsor of the Research Champions program, has recently made an important discovery of its own: philanthropy can energize the donor as much as the recipient. What began as an ownership decision to support Seattle Children’s through gifts to both the hospital and research institute has quickly grown to involve VECA employees at all levels of the organization.

According to Brian Westerlund, president of VECA, “We have always provided information about the causes we support to our employees. We let them know how they can give through payroll deduction or direct donation.” But recently, he continues, “there has been a groundswell of employees wanting to be more involved in the company’s giving decisions. Last month, we created a new way for employees to discuss the ways we give back to our community.”

Founded following World War II as Veterans Electrical Contractors Association, VECA has been part of the Northwest community for over 65 years. The company is now one of the largest electrical contractors in the region, with offices as far away as Arizona.

Research is a natural focus for their company to support. As Westerlund affirms, “We are very much into technology. We use cutting-edge software so we can be more efficient, and employ the latest working methods to reduce costs. Research is an investment in the future. We see Seattle Children’s Research Institute making that same investment.”

Brian Westerlund got a first-hand introduction to Children’s when VECA became a founding Research Champion two years ago. “We went to the hospital to observe an infant heart surgery. The things new technology allowed the surgeon to do was really eye-opening.”

Research Champions includes organizations that support the work of Seattle Children’s Research Institute with a gift of $2,500 or more in a calendar year. Individuals can become Research Champions with a gift of $1,000 or more. As a Research Champion, VECA is able to send employees to special discussions and presentations by Children’s scientists on recent research innovations, a perk that many employees appreciate, as it allows them to gain a more in-depth understanding of the research they support.

VECA’s total giving to the research institute has already surpassed $70,000. The donations have supported general research, cancer research and education initiatives, like the Science Adventure Lab. In 2012 the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) will hold a major global health public event focusing on the health of mothers and newborns, which is made possible in part through the generous sponsorship of VECA. The diversity of the projects that VECA has chosen to fund reflects the wide interests of the company’s leadership and a willingness to respond quickly to emerging needs.

Ultimately, Westerlund acknowledges, a reason for supporting research is the same for a multi-million dollar company like VECA as it is for an individual who makes a gift at a guild event. “When you’re a kid, you love getting presents,” he said. “But as you grow older, you learn that giving can be more fun. It’s a great feeling to give, and I can’t think of a cause more worthy than our children.”